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2019-01-01 / Up Close

Paper Trail

Local paper artist Diane Maurer’s work to be archived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Steven Deutsch

Diane Maurer, an internationally known paper artist and author, lives in a fine old house in the village of Spring Mills, 20 miles or so east of State College. She says buying the house was meant to be, as the owner was the paper maker people were telling her to meet and she was the artist he was being encouraged to meet. The house had an unfinished attic with large windows, perfect for a studio, and a basement with a floor drain, perfect for marbling. The house also has a passageway to nowhere in particular and a built-in wardrobe so large it suggests a portal to Narnia.

And indeed, magic has come out of that house, and soon some of it will be in one of the most highly regarded museums in the world. “The Preservation librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has invited Diane Maurer to be part of the Legacy Project, honoring prominent American paper decorators,” read the letter she received. For a practicing artist, it doesn’t get any better than this. Maurer-Mathison’s reaction is similarly simple but says it all: “I’m at the Met,” she says with a grin.

Maurer-Mathison, whose artist name is simply Diane Maurer, has always been interested in art and writing. She recalls that in her childhood home in Watchung, New Jersey, she created a gallery space in a spare closet and would draw murals on paper she hung there and write and tell stories about the animals and people she created. Gallery hours were regulated by an older brother.

A graduate of Douglass College and Rutgers University, the artist’s formal training is in creative writing. In 1980, she was working as a weaver and fiber sculptor and had just published the book Fiber Art, when she met people working in the centuries-old craft known as “marbling.” There were no modern texts on the subject, so she seized on it as a topic for her next book.

Diane Maurer-Mathison shares her work with Mindell Dubansky, the preservation librarian at The Met.Diane Maurer-Mathison shares her work with Mindell Dubansky, the preservation librarian at The Met.The earliest examples of marbling still in existence are Turkish and date back to the 1400s. There they were used for decoration and as a background for official documents, to prevent forgery. Travelers on the Silk Road brought marbling to Western Europe, where it became a mainstay of bookbinding. Formulas for the process were secret — passed down from generation to generation. Mass production of books brought an end to marbled endpapers and, by the 1890s, the craft had almost died out.

With the help of her then-partner, Paul Maurer, Maurer-Mathison began to investigate the art. “I rolled up my sleeves to try mixing my own palette of colors and began floating them on a mixture of seaweed and water. Then I manipulated them with combs and rakes I had made to form delicate designs like I had seen on the endpapers of antique books…When I applied my paper to the floating designs and made the contact print, I found that I’d captured the magic I’d seen in the marbling tray.” She was hooked — falling in love with the immediacy of the process. And, while she still owns her loom, she has “not thrown a weaving shuttle since that day.” Her first book on the subject, An Introduction to Carrageenan and Watercolor Marbling, (with Paul Maurer) was published in 1984.

Maurer-Mathison describes the marbling process thoroughly in her reissued book, The Ultimate Marbling Handbook. It is a multistep process. Briefly, the paper is first primed with a mixture of alum and water and allowed to dry. A second mixture of carrageenan and water, with the consistency of milk (the “size”), is poured into a shallow tray. After skimming the size, paint is sprinkled onto the surface using brushes, straw whisks or eyedroppers, and combs and rakes are drawn through the paints to make patterns. A sheet of paper is laid on the surface of the size to pick up the floating colors. The paper is lifted off, rinsed and hung to dry. Only one print can be made for each pattern.

Maurer-Mathison says she has never kept a formula for color mixing or strived to create an all-over regular pattern in her designs. She prefers, instead, “to witness the beautiful way brush and whisk-applied colors occupy a more random space and offer a bit of a surprise within each new patterned paper.” She notes, “I am known primarily for my delicate, pastel patterns and multi-image designs where a sheet is marbled, dried and redone a second time.”

Over the last 35 years, she has worked to become one of the most respected paper artists in the world. She has published 14 books and demonstrated marbling design on television shows such as “The Carol Duvall Show” and “Martha Stewart Living.” Her work has been sold in shops and museum stores across the nation. And she has taught across the spectrum — at workshops and symposiums and to fourth-graders as part of the Galaxy, Arts in Education Program. On the local level, she is past president of the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania, on the board of the Gallery Shop in Lemont and a member of the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County. She has exhibited at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts every year for more than 35 years.

There are many career highlights. In 1986, she was asked to marble 250 custom sheets as cover papers for The Year of the Flag, a book the White House was producing to mark President Ronald Reagan’s term of office. And in 1994 she was contracted to create a design for Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. that was used throughout the world. She writes: “Commanding $2,000 for a single sheet of custom-made marble paper was wonderful. I also got a huge box of chocolate.”

These days, she says, “most of my focus now is on creating dimensional paper collages and artist’s books containing my marbled, paste-painted and dyed papers.” Her artwork, her reissued book The Ultimate Marbling Handbook and announcements of workshops and events may be found on her website (dianemaurer.com).

Along with the work of approximately 20 other paper decorators, a selection of Maurer-Mathison’s work will be archived in the Watson Library at the Met so that researchers will have access to original works for the study of the book and paper arts movement in America. Detailed descriptions — materials, patterns and techniques — are included for each piece.

In October 2018, Maurer-Mathison hand-carried 40 papers, including traditional marbling, Japanese Suminagashi marbling and paste papers, to the Met. There will be an opening later this year. It figures to be spectacular. •SCM

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